Intro 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70
The mighty doors swung open and Atrus entered the auditorium to rousing cheers. Atrus lumbered to the central stage and turned to face the assembled chapter. The crystal of his Psychic Amplifier sparkled, and his armor shone with a fresh coat of polish. To his right sat Captain Perseus of the 1st company, and to his left, Chaplain Alexsandr. All of the other captains of all of the companies were assembled there, in all their finery, along with Inquisitor Kalmsan. Atrus motioned for the crowd to be silent, and after a minute, the cheering ceased.
Zeraf Antonius saw none of this. He only heard static as the crowd cheered. His first command was proving to be a huge disappointment. Captain Dakota of the strike cruiser Sacrifice had placed him in command while he attended Atrus’ address. Aside from mindless servitors, and one squad of the 6th company left on board for security purposes, he was alone. Only servitors populated the bridge, and he had them running long range scans to prevent a surprise attack. He did his duty, but he would rather have been aboard His Hammer II to hear the address in person. Instead, he was stuck here, listening through a speaker that needed a bit of maintenance and had poor sound quality. Antonius signaled for a tech servitor to bring him some tools. While he was bored, he might as well fix something and be useful. Atrus’ address would doubtless be over by the time the tools arrived though. Antonius sighed. The static of the crowd died down. Atrus must be about to begin.
Antonius’ head snapped to the speaker. His jaw hung open. That was no way to begin a crusade. Something was wrong; he felt it in his bones. Atrus continued.
“Some say that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Imperium. In the coming conflict, we shall put that saying to the test. In previous crusades we have fought for worlds. We have fought for people. We have fought to vanquish the abominations that dare face us. But on this campaign we fight for no less than the safety of the Imperium as a whole. I have had another vision.”
Once more, static blotted out the sound from the speaker as the entire chapter of the Azure Flames burst into cheers. Antonius slumped back in the captain’s chair. It seemed only yesterday that he had gone through the rites of initiation and had seen the doom Atrus had predicted. If this vision was only half as potent, the entire chapter was at risk. The static continued for several minutes, and then Atrus began once more.
“I said I have had another vision, but that is not entirely accurate. I have had several. Thousands, actually. All of these visions dealt with the future, and of the fate of our chapter. They were all different from one another, and I know that they were all visions of what could possibly happen.
“Furthermore, I believe that I saw only the barest fraction of what could potentially happen in the coming months. These visions will guide our actions, but never believe that any outcome has been foretold. Neither victory nor defeat is absolutely certain. But one thing is certain. Defeat here will break the Imperium. Darkness will wash over the galaxy. You have all seen it in the vision shared by all of our brothers. We will not let that come to pass. This is the battle the vision foretold, and we shall ensure that the darkness from that vision is stopped here and crushed utterly!”
Once more, cheers brought the speaker to life with static. Through the static, some cries were audible.
“We shall crush them!”
“Lead us to victory!”
“None shall stand in our way!”
Unlike before, Atrus did not wait for the static to die down.
“It pains me greatly to say this, but I will most probably die in this conflict.”
The speaker went dead silent.
“Only a fool believes he can live forever. You all know that someday, even those interred in a Sarcophagus will die. Whether on the battlefield or in space, we all die in our time appointed by the Emperor. And so shall I.”
Tears welled up behind Antonius’ eyes. His parents had been killed by Orks when they had taken his world. Ever since the Azure Flames liberated his world, and he had passed the rigorous tests to become a Space Marine, Antonius had seen Atrus as his father. New cries replaced the old.
“That cannot be!”
“SILENCE!” Atrus shouted. The speaker, unable to handle the volume, crackled. “You are the Emperor’s finest warriors. Pull yourselves together, and listen well. I will say what I can, and what I must. I cannot tell you the circumstances of the deaths I foresaw for myself. Not only are there too many, but also any future in which I tried to explain it to anyone, someone tried to stop it. They always met with failure, and they always sacrificed something dear to have a chance. Do not lose heart. The Azure Flames are more than just one man. You must all be strong. To give one’s life in the service of the Emperor is the greatest honor anyone can ever have.”
Antonius sobbed. “No… we need you…”
“Dry your eyes, young Antonius, for the chapter will need your brave heart and your quick mind if they are to prevail.” Atrus said, speaking as if Antonius were not on an entirely different ship. Antonius almost jumped out of his seat.
“Inquisitor Kalmsan has participated in the rite of initiation. He has seen this threat, and we are pledged to help him fight it. Alexsandr, bring forth the Rosarius of Chaplain Grossus.” A gasp was audible over the speaker. Chaplain Alexsandr’s thick Valhallan accent filled Antonius’ ears.
“This Rosarius was worn by Chaplain Grossus, who fell before the forces of the cursed Victor Kalan. His sacrifice was not in vain. This sacred artifact of the Azure Flames will be entrusted to Inquisitor Kalmsan, who is our brother now. We will endeavor to help him in any way we can in the coming conflict. Stand, Inquisitor Kalmsan.”
Antonius had heard the exploits of Grossus, and knew that another chaplain had never worn his Rosarius after his death to honor his sacrifice. Who was this Inquisitor?
“Brothers!” Alexsandr shouted. “I give you Brother Voltman Kalmsan!”
Static annihilated the speaker. A servitor approached Antonius, holding a set of electrical tools. Antonius took them, and popped open the control console. Antonius managed to boost the signal and remove the static before the cheers died down. He popped the console shut just as Alexsandr began again.
“Brother Voltman, for your bodyguard we also give you these. For Trooper Riggs, A bolter, master crafted by Brother Jelnac. For Trooper Pickman, a Power Sword given to us by our parent chapter, the Salamanders. And, for Trooper Tommels, a Plasma Pistol, courtesy of Captain Piers of the 7th Company. To each of your troopers, we also entrust an Auspex scanner. And to you, Brother Voltman, to hang next to your Rosarius, this Emblem. It is a powerful communications beacon. Press both buttons simultaneously and any Azure Flames ship in your star system will pick up your distress beacon and come to your aid. It will also let you communicate with any Azure Flames Marines on your planet, or in low orbit. Now you are bound to us, as we are bound to you. Go forth to do your holy duty in the name of the Emperor.”
A voice Antoinus assumed was the Inquisitor replied. “Thank you, Alexsandr. And thank you all. Indeed, it has been my great honor to join you in this holy quest. Atrus says that we will see much battle ahead. I shall use all the authority my station allows to summon allies for the coming fight. I will ensure that the brave soldiers of the Azure Flames do not stand alone against the darkness. Together, we shall crush the opposition and secure the safety of this region. For the Emperor!”
“FOR THE EMPEROR!” shouted hundreds of voices. The stirring speech filled Antonius with pride. He felt like taking on an entire legion of traitors! A buzzing noise snapped him back into reality. One of the servitors was receiving a transmission from His Hammer II, text only. Antonius opened the file and read it quickly. He felt his blood run cold. This had to be a mistake. He verified the transmission’s authenticity codes. Sure enough it had come directly from Atrus and was sent according to an automatic time-delay. The orders were two hours old!